Travel Tuesday: Yuma prison is an oasis in a tourism desert

You know the saying, “Nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”? Yuma, Arizona, has the opposite problem. It’s a nice place to live, for a few months in the winter at least, but there’s not much for tourists to see.

Two Yelp-worthy restaurants keep downtown alive, there’s a good shopping mall and I know organizers offer some farm-to-table dining events in honor of all the fresh veggies they grow in irrigated fields all around Yuma, but as far as notable tourist attractions, the Yuma Territorial Prison on the shores of the Colorado River is it.

Would I travel all the way to Yuma to take it in? Probably not. But worth seeing if you’re in the vicinity.

The Yuma Territorial Prison was built in 1875. It was closed as a prison in 1909 (though hobos in the Depression found it a welcome shelter) and renovated as an interesting, semi-interactive museum in 1940. If touring the dingy cell blocks where inmates literally sweat to death doesn’t scare you straight, I don’t know what would.

yuma mugshot faroffThe museum offers photos and storyboards of notable wardens, workers and all kinds of infamous Wild West inmates. You can even dress up as one!

Even if decide not to go inside, the grounds and surrounding area are beautiful (in the wintertime anyway). The prison is on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River, the same waterway that carved out the Grand Canyon. But by the time the Colorado makes its way to Yuma, you can practically wade across it.

IMG_6097A beautiful riverside park with walkways and bike paths lines the banks. Compared to the rest of Yuma (which is in the heart of the desert), the park is a welcome oasis of green.

If you took the prison tour, your best bet for dinner is Prison Hill Brewery, one of those notable downtown restaurants I mentioned earlier (the other is Da Boyz Italian Cuisine, which offers enormous servings of pasta and pizza). Prison Hill offers its own cleverly named beers (I enjoyed a nice light Jailbait Blonde once) and an interesting bar menu of appetizers such as fried avocado and burgers like The Shank. Both Prison Hill and Da Boyz offer shaded winter outdoor seating, which is bliss on a nice, sunny day.

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